How Bill Cunningham Changed My Life

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In high school, it was mandatory to take an art credit. With me being completely helpless with a colored pencil and lacking any musical ability, I decided to take TV Production. It consisted of making a few videos and watching many, many documentaries. I was never that interested in the movies, and I can’t even say half my heart was invested in the class—until the day my teacher screened “Bill Cunningham New York.” From the appearance of the title to the end of the credits, I could not stop watching.

The documentary centered on Cunningham, a New Yorker who was then a contributor to the New York Times and an eccentric and irreplaceable chronicler of fashion. Through his constant photography of celebrities and New Yorkers’ urban style, he made the streets of the city into the most coveted fashion runway. The documentary followed Bill around Manhattan, where he snapped photos of anyone he saw wearing something of interest to him. The documentary also filmed him inside his apartment, which was littered floor to ceiling with files filled with all the photographs he had taken and newspaper clippings he had written. His variety of cameras and his bike, which allowed him to search for the perfect outfit, took up most of the space in his apartment. He lived modestly, and mostly for the art of fashion photography.

When the movie ended, I realized how entranced I felt with his life and work. I searched him up when I got home from school. I wanted to know what inspired him, his muses, his background and how he started his magical work.

Bill was a genius. He was given a scholarship to Harvard but dropped out two months later. He moved to New York and found work writing and photographing as a contributor to a few different papers and magazines until, after declining many offers to become a staff writer, he accepted the position at the Times. His work was celebrated throughout the world, and he was rewarded in France and New York for his impressive work. Throughout his career he declined many offers to work for museums and magazines in order to devote his life and time to pursuing his passion for documenting fashion his way.

Through Bill Cunningham’s lens I fell in love with fashion—not the perfected and airbrushed fashion seen on runways and on models but the ever-changing, individualistic fashion Bill was able to photograph on the streets of New York City.

Bill Cunningham died this past Saturday, at age 87. When I found out he passed away I felt a wave of sadness. I realized he changed my life. He allowed me and millions of others to witness the evolution of fashion and individual style right before our eyes.

Bill Cunningham will always be fashion’s stealth superhero. He was the man behind the camera, the man on the bicycle and the man Anna Wintour, the editor-in-chief of Vogue, said every girl dressed for.

I’ll miss you, Bill.